Serbia: cities, towns, & country

Crossing Serbia over the past day has been a whirlwind. Novi Pazar near the Montenegro/Kosovo border was full of bazaars, gypsies, gridlocked traffic, pollution from burning garbage, retired soviet era trucks overgrown with weeds, hip cafes with water misters and young clientele, and elaborate mosques. I was so hot and overwhelmed I took a single photo, of my lunch, which in the spirit of not posting graphical depictions of my meals to social media, I will not share here. I will inform you, however, that it was a Serbian calzone the size of two dinner plates.

Up in the hills, culture turned agrarian and everyone was out tending to hay in the fields when I passed through at dusk and temperatures had cooled. As I climbed higher away from Novi Pazar I came upon the town of Brus shortly after dark, expecting yet another town of three convenience stores, each with a ring of chairs out front propping up grizzled old men with beers and cigarettes. Instead I rode into a quaint upscale town with a main street full of high schoolers milling about as their parents looked on from modern cafes and restaurants blaring american pop music. By the time I finished my espresso I was entirely exhausted from watching Serbian youths flirt with only slightly more finesse than American youths flirt and I continued onwards toward Prokulpje. Here I met Nemanja Nedeljkovic, who graciously offered me a spot to sleep behind his gas station. Best of luck to his studies in the law and to his brother whose basketball scholarship will take him to school in the U.S. next year.

Extreme heat today as I continue to push towards Sofia, Bulgaria…

Bulgaria: Cruel rainbow

Sweltering heat in eastern Serbia finally gave way as I crossed into Bulgaria at sunset a day ago. Physical and emotional reserves were depleted, as I’d just cycled for 50 miles on what turned out to be the most dangerous leg of my trip to date. The road leading out of Serbia had a single lane in each direction with no shoulder. Riding the white painted line inches from the roadside ditch would have to suffice. Long lines of fast moving traffic tried to squeeze past me without striking oncoming cars. Passing trucks frequently gave so little space that I could have hit them with an outstretched hand. Meanwhile, drivers with NASCAR aspirations passed these trucks by pulling into the lane of oncoming traffic and accelerating to 70 mph to pass before skirting back into their lane to avoid head-on collision. It meant little to them if this forced me off the road as they hurtled in my direction, taking up my entire lane. There have been so many acts of kindness from strangers on this trip, but here was an instance where folks were perfectly happy to put my life at risk so they could get to their destination a few seconds faster – a troubling thought.

At long last, the border to Bulgaria appeared in the distance, spanned by a rainbow. A beautiful moment with awful implications: I’d soon be riding through a downpour just as the sun was setting. Sure enough, heavy rain began at dusk, moments after I’d received my passport back from border authorities. I forged ahead through the storm towards Sofia but when the rain persisted, I pulled into a roadside biker bar, enjoyed a massive meal, and retired at midnight, soggy but warm, beneath an overpass several feet down the road.

I continued on at 4am to bike across Bulgaria with sights aimed on Edirne, Turkey…